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Iain all set to chalk up 1,000 game milestone

By Graham Hamilton

You've all heard of the ton-up club, when someone reaches 100 games in their career, but meet the man who is about to achieve that milestone... TEN times over.

Belfast Harlequins goalkeeper Iain Kelly is sitting on 997 appearances at the moment, and hopes to reach the magical 1,000 this weekend when his club take part in the EY Provincial Play-offs at the Merrion Fleet Arena in Dublin.

Iain will aim to safeguard his nets against Munster side Bandon on Friday (7.30pm), Leinster side Corinthian on Saturday (1.15pm) and another Leinster side, Clontarf, on Sunday (12.30pm) and if successful will be celebrating on two counts.

"Reaching 1,000 games is going to be something special, and if we can do well in the three games, it would take us into the provincial finals the following weekend from which we could qualify for next season's Irish Hockey League," said Iain.

It's certainly a remarkable story about a young lad who made his debut for Collegians in the old Intermediate League while a Third Form pupil at Methodist College Belfast, and 35 years later he stills pulls on the goalkeeping pads for the same club, although they are now known as Belfast Harlequins.

"It has been enjoyable over all those years," said Iain, who is currently the club president but has also filled many other roles. "I have travelled all over Ireland and made many friends along the way.

"Several leading clubs were interested in signing me in my younger days, but I felt my club had given me the opportunity and so I stayed put."

But will he pull on the pads next year, or will he call it a day after 35 years guarding the nets?

"We'll see what lies ahead," he added. "But there's a bit of an incentive there, with the chance of playing in the Irish Hockey League next season."

Harlequins aren't the only Ulster team involved in the Provincial Play-offs this weekend - Instonians and Raphoe are in the other pool with UCD and UCC, with their games earmarked for Lisnagarvey.

The top two from each pool go through to the semi-finals and final weekend at Three Rock's Grange Road the following weekend, with the overall winners qualifying automatically for the IHL next season.

The runners-up then take on this season's ninth-placed team in the IHL, possibly Cookstown but an outside chance of Annadale or Cork C of I, to decide the final IHL place for next year.

That ninth place will be decided this Saturday when the final round of IHL games take place.

Annadale are currently bottom and need to beat Irish Senior Cup winners Monkstown in Dublin to have a chance of avoiding automatic relegation.

Cookstown are two points above them and go to Three Rock hoping Cork C of I - who are three points better off - lose their last two games.

Meanwhile, Lisnagarvey will be presented with the IHL trophy on Saturday when they play their final game at home to Glenanne (3pm).

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